Supply Teachers Are People

 

If there is a choice between the half-wit robots that patrol the corridors of modern secondary education and the worn-out, worn-down, world-weary supply teacher, I would pick the temp every time.

It’s not just me:

 

 

Experiences of a Supply Teacher

Charlie Caroll was a successful 28-year old teacher in a great school, who loved his job. In 2008, he decided to become a supply teacher in different cities in England. His encounters bewildered him so much that he wrote a book about them. After reading ‘On The Edge’, I wrote to Charlie and asked if I could share extracts from his book on this blog. Charlie kindly agreed, so here is the first of two blogposts sharing a supply teacher’s experience of tough schools in England, starting in Nottingham.

 

NOTTINGHAM

Tompkins Technology College. Children were running around, yelling and tussling wherever I looked. ‘Morning, Year 10,’ I hollered over the din. ‘Time to sit down, please.’ Chairs were being flung over, snatches of insults occasionally broke free of the general hubbub, and it appeared that no-one had heard me.

‘Year 10!’ I shouted again, this time louder. ‘Seats, please!’

I looked at my watch; by the time I had everyone seated and looking in my general direction, seven minutes of the lesson had been wasted.

I started to introduce myself. ‘All right,’ I said. ‘My name is Mr Carroll, and I’m here for the next week or so. Today, we’re going to be working on…’-

‘For f*ck’s sake!’ one girl exploded. ‘Give it back, you bitch!’ More yelling, more chairs falling over as they fought over a stolen object. I tried to make them return to their seats, but three minutes passed before they tired of fighting and sat back down. Other pupils ignored me completely and talked amongst themselves. The noise grew. ‘Look,’ I said. ‘We need to …’ ‘No-one’s listening to you,’ one lad told me. I wrote the task on the board: Write a letter to your Headteacher, persuading him to get rid of school uniform.

‘Right, girls,’ I said. ‘What I need you to do is…’ ‘I’m doing it!’ erupted one of them, Tracey. ‘God! Just f*ck off, will you?’

‘I can’t have you talking to me like that,’ I said, calmly. ‘Please go and stand outside.’

She clapped her hands, hoorayed and rushed out of the door. When I checked a moment or two later, she had vanished, taking the opportunity to go for a 20-minute walk around the school.

Suddenly a boy burst into the room. Ignoring me, he reached into his bag and produced a large box of fizzy sweets.

‘Who wants some?’ he shouted. ‘No!’ I protested, but I was ignored by all as they swamped the newcomer.

I had just about got them seated again, when a fight between two 16-year-olds erupted outside my room, and the entire class rushed out to chant and holler. Another five minutes wasted.

Once they were all back inside again, a dark-haired lad suddenly leapt across his table and began stabbing another boy in the back of the hand with a straightened paperclip, drawing blood. Tracey came back, and her return sparked a loud argument among her front-row friends. ‘F*ck off, ya white bitch!’ ‘That’s racist!’

Five minutes before the end of the lesson, the class unanimously decided to pack up and walk out, despite my protestations.

 

As the bell for break-time went, I tried to set up the classroom for the Year 8s and ready myself. The second bell sounded, and they arrived. There followed two hours of noise – of frantic, urgent, unstoppable noise – which echoed about the room with deafening resonance.

Omar had a penchant for sneaking up to the board whenever I had my back turned to draw large and often spurting penises. Zoe had to be moved five or six times after starting loud arguments with anybody she happened to be close to. Raymond made his best friend cry when he graffitied the words ‘Mr Carroll swallows’ on to the cover of his book, held it up for me and the rest of the class to see, and then exclaimed ‘Sir! Look what Dimitri wrote!’ Sharn, after ceaseless taunting from Zoe, unloaded her tormentor’s bag all over the floor, kicked aside her chair, and then stormed out, never to return. And just when I thought it could get no worse, Luke calmly walked over to Habib, and spat on his head.

‘Luke!’ I shouted, my temper close to ripping. ‘Go and stand outside of the room now!’ The boy’s face filled with anger. ‘You can’t send me out,’ he spat. ‘I didn’t do anything! If you send me out, I’ll break your nose.’

‘It’s a very serious thing,’ I began, ‘to threaten a teacher, Luke –‘

‘I don’t care!’ he yelled. ‘I didn’t do anything!’ With that, he ran from the classroom. I followed, but by the time I reached the door he had disappeared. I came back in. A paper aeroplane sailed over and bounced lightly off the top of my head. ‘Oi, sir!’ Terry called out, ‘Chuck it back!’

I spent five days in Nottingham, enduring insults and continuous disobedience, having to make any request at least six times before it was even acknowledged.

I vividly remember a Year 7 lad obnoxiously shouting at his classmate, an orphaned Somali refugee, ‘At least I’ve got a family to go home to! At least I’ve got a family to go home to!’

On entering my lesson, a year 10 girl sang (to the tune of ‘If You’re Happy And You Know It, Clap Your Hands’):

‘If you think Sir’s a waste,

Clap your hands.

If you think Sir’s a waste,

Slap him round the face

If you think Sir’s a waste,

Clap your hands’.

I stopped her at the door. ‘Tracey,’ I said, ‘there is no way I can let you into this classroom now.’

‘What the f**k are you talking about?’ she hollered, spinning in circles and addressing the gang of youths surrounding her. ‘I ain’t done nothing!’

‘Tracey, I heard full well what you were singing,’ I said. ‘I cannot let you into this classroom after that.’

She shouted back: ‘Are you f**king mad? I wasn’t even singing! What the f**k is wrong with you?’ I tried to start the lesson. But it was difficult. Tracy was outside screaming so loudly that she drowned out my instructions. Abdul threw a chair at Peter. Vicky began playing loud dance music on her phone. Alan stole Tyrone’s left shoe, and ran about the room with it ululating. Charmaine produced a lighter, and tried to set fire to Tyrone’s exposed sock. And, all the while, Tracey stood outside, shouting that I was a twat, a prick, a wanker. Kris, a quiet lad, came up to me and, with a wry smile, said: ‘You know, the Head would probably have come and got her by now if you was a normal teacher. But you’re just a supply teacher.’

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Will advance ominously towards Ashley. ‘What did you just say?’ Will hissed, squaring up to Ashley. Will pushed Ashley hard. Ashley fell back a few steps and then flung a wild swing at Will’s head. It was all Will, the larger of the two, needed. Grabbing Ashley by the jumper, he struck him twice in the face. ‘Stop that!’ I shouted, but Will ignored me. As Ashley careered backwards, he advanced, smashing him in the face with another resounding punch which spun the smaller boy around. Will kicked him hard in the back, sending Ashley flying out over a chair and on to the floor. As he lay there, Will stamped on his stomach.

As Will stood backwards, I stepped into the gap. Heady with adrenalin myself, both arms splayed outwards to prevent him moving any closer to the floored Ashley, I said, ‘Get out!’ He looked at me, and then at Ashley. ‘Get out now!’ I said. Will turned and left. The class, for the first time that day, were completely silent.

Violence in many tough schools is a reality pupils and teachers have to deal with. In one year alone, 740 children were permanently excluded for assaulting teachers; 8,240 were temporarily excluded. In many cases, nothing is done about it.

 

 

All in a day’s work.

The Piper 43

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If Laura ever got the chance to think about what had just happened, she would find it impossible to separate reality from  dream.

She remembered the boy, Nicholas, and knew that he had pushed her through a wall and into a damp, dark passageway. She remembered the pleading of voices that wished her to join them. Most of all, she remebered crystallised the voice of the doctor who had promised her so very much pain.

They had run, through screams, hisses and squeals until, lungs bursting, they had reached a flight of steps.

These will take you back. I will see you up there.

Then he had pushed her gently in the small of her back and she had wanted to hug him. She wanted to hold the young boy who had been scarred by decades.

Instead she woke to Nick, the man, looking over her.

“So, sleeping beauty awakes. Good. Time to go.”

He had a plastic bag containing her own handbag and held Brian’s keys.

“They tried to impound him, but I persuaded them otherwise.”

He waved them along with a trace of a smile.

“Best to put these on just so nobody will suspect.”

He put her clothes and the white jacket used by doctors on the bed.

“I’ll have to turn my back. I don’t want to leave you on your own again.”

Another smile ran across his face and she wished the young Nicholas could see this.

The hospital was filling up with more casualties of the night. Doctors, nurses and paramedics were stretched in the attempts to stem this fresh tide of injuries. Only the young female doctor, who had first treated Laura had ever seen anything quite like this before. had served in Bosnia and recognised that some evil was at play.

Nicholas and Laura walked urgently through the emergency area, stopped only by a relative of a patient asking about her husband to which Nick pointed towards reception. Then they left through the doors that were to see so much more in the coming days.

In the car park, Brian waited. He started first time.

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In another part of the city, Pete had slowed down to almost a standstill.

He had watched as the bus had drawn to a stop outside of a newsagents’ shop. The lights inside were still on yet he could see no human traffic going in and out of it. The bus pulled away revealing the gang. He tried to make himself become invisible. They saw him and grinned with satisfaction before crossing the road.

If he ran now, they would catch him. If he tried to hide, they would find him. If he stayed put, somebody might come to his aid. He prayed that that would be the case.

“You all right kid? Where’s your mummy?”

The leader, a skinny youth with a thin, rat-like face asked him with mock concern.

“She’s in the shop getting a paper,” Pete replied.

His quick lie knocked them off balance for a moment.

“She’s in the shop then,” responded the leader, “that’s nice. We’ll wait here with you till she comes out. Wouldn’t want anything happening to you would we?”

His line had obviously amused the others who stifled their laughter.

“Have you ever thought about being a film star?”

Pete shook his head slowly as the words refused to materialise.

Moments passed and the others in the gang started to become restless. They were anxious to get on with what they had agreed upon.

“Why don’t we just take him? Nobody will know. It’s dark and he wouldn’t put up a struggle. Look at him, he’s only little.”

A general agreement ran through their ranks and the leader placed his hand upon Pete’s shoulder.

“This can be easy or it can be hard. It’s your choice. I’d prefer it to be hard. Make your mind up.”

Pete made his mind up and bit into his would-be assailant’s hand. He bit deep and went through the skin. He bit further and tasted blood. He felt sick at the thought, but went further. He knew that bites were better when they twisted the skin, so he twisted violently and then he was off.

The rat-faced boy was shocked at what had just happened. The pain in his hand was excruciating and he saw blood pouring from the wound that looked as if it had been caused by a knife rather than some runt’s teeth. The rest of the gang stood. Without direction, they were blind and useless.

Eventually, ‘rat boy’ focussed himself on the revenge that he immediately wanted. He would enjoy what he was about to do and would do it all himself. The kid was going to regret not coming along quietly. He would take his time and make his last hours the most painful anyone could remember.

“Stop standing around. Get the little bastard. Get him and bring him back.”

Pete had a good start.

His short legs were working as hard as they could. He knew that there were just moments separating him from something horrible and he pushed himself some more.

The road was strangely empty of people and cars. The water was lying in undisturbed pools that reflected an indifferent moon. He could not outrun them. He had to find some other way.

Up ahead, a van was parked lazily in the entrance for deliveries to  small a line of shops. It was partially blocking his way. He could not see beyond it and summed up his chances. If he ran around the van and then turned a quick left into the delivery area, he could be able to hide. He would need to hide well as they would come looking for him. They may have looked stupid, but there was something else about them that suggested they were instinctively capable of tracking him down.

The running feet were now splashing along the pavement. The gang was shouting things and Pete could not work out what they were saying. It was as if they were just issuing some savage howls that were intended to scare him into a mistake.

He made the van and darted left into the darkness of the alleyway.

He got as far as the loading bay when he heard the hunters charging along.

 

 

The Piper 42

Pete had stopped running.

Nobody was following him.

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He pulled his coat around his small frame and he felt a little warmth that fought off some of the cold night’s attacks. It started to rain and Pete pulled his hood down further. He had not escaped danger just yet.

The streets were unfamiliar places for him. He had always been with his mother or his brothers when he had been outside of the house. Then there was Brian whose comforting bulk could generally be relied upon to take them to their preferred destinations. Since Nick had fixed it, it had been running well.

Mum was another matter altogether.

When she had dropped him off this morning, she had been haunted by her dreams. She had been dreaming about the dark man who had shown her things that were not real. His mother, however, had believed him. She had dreamt about Michael, a Michael who was a danger to them and, when she had looked at Michael in the morning, she had shown her youngest son that she still believed what the dark man had said.

The dark man spent a lot of his time in other people’s dreams. He made his way through the corridors of their thoughts and planted doubts. His greatest gift was the gift of mistrust.

The woman at the nursery had been one of his. She, too, believed everything that he had told her and clung to the promises that she had been given. In the new world, she would have all that she wished for. Pete hoped that the new world would not come.

A fresh sweep of rain pushed him backwards.

He was a small boy, a boy of four, tiny in the night and the whole scheme of things, and he was alone in a city that was rapidly losing its souls. His escape from the nursery had been inspired by fortune more than anything else. If he came across any other danger, he did not think that he could get away with it again. His mum was in trouble, Nick was in trouble, and Michael had been cornered.

Chris was someplace else and Pete could not see him. The dark man could be winning and no little boy would be able to stand up to him.

A bus rushed past and threw the contents of a dirty puddle at him. From the back seat number of youths laughed at the sight of the little kid, soaked. Then the laughter stopped. Pete heard their thoughts that came in the form of a missile. They were wondering what it would be like to do him in.

The next stop would see them dismounting. They would wait for him and there would be nobody to stand in their way. The dark man had done this. He had made it all possible and his minions had created the perfect vehicle for transferring the message.

NuNation.

The youths on the bus had been travelling the city looking for something to film. They had talked about slappings and beatings. They had studied similar videos on the site and had been inspired by things that appeared to go right to the edge and beyond.

 

Murder was a serious option and the great thing was that the police didn’t want to know. It was happening all over and more and more videos were being posted. If you were out at night, you deserved what you got.

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The little kid would make a good subject. It would be just mint!

The Piper 41

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The night was coming and he liked that.

For once, he had been left in charge and the thrill of that control flooded his veins with a warmth that was reminiscent of his own comforts.

Flowers viewed the world from the inside of his flat. The smell of the old man had now even ceased to reach his nostrils and the revulsion that he had first felt was replaced with acceptance, indeed, celebration.

Since meeting James Harrison, life had taken on a different hue. The dead, he was sure, would inherit the earth and he would be amongst them. No, he would be leading them in the conquest of all that was good and the meek, well, they would not inherit.

He had learnt so much in these past weeks. He stopped to catch himself. Weeks, was it just weeks that had passed? For him it seemed like decades. These weeks had become eons in which he had led been led on a merry waltz through the possibilities of being. In that time he had moved from being Flowers, the boy with no hope (but who was as savage as despair), to the second in command.

He had been called him his representative on Earth. His kingdom would belong to Flowers and all of his progeny would rule from that day forth.

Hadn’t he moved the dead?

He turned to look at the dried remains in the chair and grinned.

For a moment he placed his smile onto the face of the cadaver and was pleased to see it returned. Nevertheless, he had become bored with the way he could manipulate this empty vessel. Like a puppet master, he had been capable of making the thing move; it almost seemed real. On one occasion, it had even been able to make him a rudimentary cup of tea, but he had always hated tea and threw the scolding liquid back into the face of the giver.

Yes, he could move the dead and now it was time for him to move the living.

Podrall had been easy. Podrall was an insect. Yes, there had been a time when he had liked his Podrall. He had liked the way that the boy had feared him. The way he jumped to his commands and did everything without questioning. He enjoyed the blood that he was prepared to spill. He could watch in glee, like a circus spectator, as Podrall and his crew set about some hapless victim. And he would watch, enthralled by the spectacle as they would show their chosen prey not an ounce of mercy as they set about reducing hard flesh to pulp.

And that was good. That was good for those times. Now the times they were ‘a changing’ and he would settle for no less than sacrifice. The Piper had taught him that.

Now, the night was coming and it was the time that had been promised. On this night, and it had been deemed so, there would be sacrifice. There would be a sacrifice that would light up the world to the new possibilities of a dark eve.

From his window, he watched the weak move. They were being chased along the pavements by the merest force of the feeble elements, rain, cold and darkness could do this. When The Piper’s time was at hand, they would be huddled like goats against the greatest of powers.

How had man reached this stage?

He was not saddened by the fall of man but amazed that such a creature had managed to out-think its rivals to reach such privilege. Man the half-witted inheritor. The Piper had sneered in disgust at the thought that such imbeciles had reached so high in the food chain. They had been half-bloods, neither from the dark nor from the light. At first, they had danced around feasting on anything they could capture and, if unsuccessful, each other.

Then the prophets came, bringing awareness.

Instead of devouring their young in times of need, some would sacrifice their very own lives for these useless additions. Blessed are the children. And this was the key. For them to continue their absurd existence, their children had to survive.

The store of their collective memories was kept inside these helpless sacks of lard.

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Children, the root of all goodness, and evil.

The Piper 40

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If it was waking, Laura woke.

Her eyes opened onto a darkened hospital ward in which all the other patients were sleeping soundly. She tried to lift herself and found that she couldn’t. Her arms and legs had been restricted by something and she felt its unforgiving nature bite into her skin. Her neck ached and her head swam. A cough emerged from within her lungs and forced its way out of her mouth. She almost choked upon its insistence and coughed some more. Something in the ward heard this and began to move towards her. She closed her eyes again.

“Mrs Andrews, are you awake?”

Laura kept her eyes tightly closed. She recognised the voice even though now it appeared coated in a German accent.

“Oh dear my dear, I thought that you were awake. I wanted so much to see those lovely eyes of yours. I especially like them when they are filled with fear and have been crying.”

Laura did not think that he was exaggerating.

“Do you like my hospital? I find it so much more accommodating than the newer one in the city. It has more character, or should I say it has… more characters. Your husband is here somewhere and soon we shall have all of your little tribe. You’ll get to meet them later. For now sleep, or hide, for soon there will be something that you will not enjoy.”

The sounds of the ward moved about her. The sensation was like being on a ship at sea with the creaking structure adapting itself to the changing pressures of the ebbs and flows.

She heard the moans of children. More than once she heard the half-remembered word ‘mother’ being uttered and once she thought she heard a young voice attempting to ward off an unwanted visitor. The voice had been nothing more than a whimper but it’s effect was thunderous . She was in a den belonging to monsters and this doctor, if that is what he truly was, was leading them.

After many hours the room went silent; a silence that was trapped in ice. She kept her eyes firmly closed and clung from the precipice of reason above the gaping jaws of insanity. If she could not see it then it could not see her, her inner child recited.

A memory floated beside her.

There had been times when she had been very young, too young to be able to distinguish between dreams and reality, that the darkness had settled. It came as a blanket thrown over her, a suffocating denier of light and air, an impervious divide. And in that world of darkness played a flute. And into that she would rise and follow. And then she would be led further into the beckoning gloom. And always, she made her way to the promise of safety that was her parents’ bed.

But instead of her mother and father, alone figure would be waiting.

And there it would be playing the flute.

The thing didn’t call it a flute, it called the instrument a pipe or a syringe: it had many applications and names. It would smile an ancient smile in the hope that she would go to it. For a sliver of that moment she thought she had touched the loneliness that hid behind its sweet promise, but then it was gone.

There must have been strings attached to her former self as she was pulled towards the figure. If she had had any strength, she would have fought it, but she was merely a little girl and it was a thing of greatness. It was fear and it was promise. And both pulled her towards it.

“Don’t listen to it,” a distant voice spoke.

It was the voice of Michael, of Peter, and of Nick.

“Pull away from it. Run away.” 

The notes of The Piper got louder. They began to scream their insistence.

“Mother!” 

It was the voice of her youngest son and she saw him in danger. He was running through the darkening streets and he was alone.

“Mother! Please.”

And she was no longer asleep.

The leaden weights that had sat upon her sight were now gone. Somehting was approaching her bed, inching towards her and, around her, a writhing mass of beds was awaking.

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The voice of a long-ago Nick whispered, “You must not make a sound. I have undone your restraints. The moment move, he will know. You will have only seconds. Run!”

It was then that she glimpsed the boy.

He was a child forever caught in the amber of black and white photographs. The ones that had seemingly survived the Nazi concentration camps. These children, only a handful, wore their yellow stars as reminders. Their eyes held every moment that they had witnessed and been exposed to. What haunted them would do so forever. Thye had survived, but so had the thing that had taunted them. Nicholas had that same look.

“Remember that this is not your world. He has drugged you and carried you under. You are dreaming and anything he tells you is a lie. When you move, move quickly. They will be after you. There will be the lost ones rising from their beds and they will not allow you to go. They have been trapped here for many years and their resentment has turned to blackness. When we go, hold on to me and keep low. Do not stop for anything. Let nothing deviate you from this. Trust me.”

She did.

“Now, run!”

Laura was on her feet and running. Lights were being switched on. Screams of feral creatures, orders being barked, whistles blown, and the long drone of an alarm. She kept low as she was pulled along the line of beds. Once or twice she had felt the swipe of a hand from beneath their covers, but nothing caught her. She was no longer a smal girl blinded by the fear and promise of the night; she was a mother.

The long-ago Nicholas moved with unrestrained agility and she moved with him. A space opened in the wall and he was pulling her through when something reached out and held her patient’s gown.

She turned to free herself and met the desperate eyes of her little sister.

Please it’s dark in here, don’t leave me! I have been so lonely for so long. Now we can play. Please stay.

For what could have been a long while, she hesitated. This was a a girl, one who could have been her, and she could not leave her in such a bleak place.

“It is not you. It is not you. Remember the lies. Now run or everyone will be lost!”

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Nicholas screamed at Laura before pulling her through the opening and into a passageway.

 

The Piper 39

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Nobody knew that Pete could tell the time and only Nick knew that he had a special gift.

Pete could read the thoughts that other people had.

The big clock on the playroom wall told him that his mother was late. She always arrived and picked him up at ten minutes past five, give or take five minutes. Now the big clock’s hands were pointing to eleven and six. He knew that that meant that she was very late.

Pete watched as the other children were picked up by their parents, mostly mums. He had confided in one girl, Amy who was almost a year older than himself, that he didn’t have a dad. She nodded and said that she didn’t have one either or rather that she did, but he had moved away to live with another family.

She said this as a matter of fact, but Pete knew that she had been struck by something that really hurt. He knew that she cried herself to sleep when her mother switched off her bedroom light.

Twenty minutes ago, Amy’s mum had turned up with her face of survival and had taken her home.

“Oh, so this is the Pete you’re always talking about?”

Amy had blushed with a childish mixture of pride and embarrassment. Pete was supposed to remain a secret crush and now her mother had blurted it out as if it was something that was funny.

“Your mummy’s late isn’t she? Has she been held up in traffic or something?”

Pete shrugged his shoulders suggesting that he obviously didn’t know. Inside, he knew where she was and how she was trying to make her way back to him.

More important for Pete now was the fact that the big hand was moving towards six o’clock and that was the time the nursery closed. There were very expensive fees for leaving children beyond this time, but Pete knew that fees were not part of anyone’s concern. The big lady with the lovely smile was his immediate problem.

Pete stopped pushing around the Thomas the Tank Engine contingent he had managed to assemble. He’d achieved a minor coup since he had never been able to collect all of them together at exactly the same time. He had Thomas there with his blue livery, Edward and Gordon who shared the same colour, Henry who was green and James, his favourite, who was a stunning red. The toys were old now and had been handled by hundreds of children with care and without care. Tonight, he had aligned them all along the railway track of his imaginary Westward Way Railway Line.

James came to a halt. Mathew, the last of the other children, had been picked up by his mother.

“Do you mind if I get off, I’ve got some shopping to do?” Katy, the nice nursery nurse asked the big lady.

The big lady liked to be called Samantha, but Pete knew that this wasn’t her real name.

“Fine love. I’ll wait here with little Peter until his mummy arrives. Won’t we Peter?”

She gave him that long practised smile. Pete smiled back , not wanting to let her know that he knew how long she had practised that smile.

Katy grabbed her coat and her bag and was out of the door with a friendly goodnight. The big lady smiled again, waited a few minutes and got to her feet. She crossed the area between her seat and the door and locked it. She turned off the lights. Pete felt, without having to see, the smile disappear.

“Now then, Peter, I know someone who is dying to meet you. You will have to put your coat on now as he doesn’t enjoy being kept waiting.”

Pete didn’t move, his mind was delving hers.

She was somewhere else now. She was not in the same room as him but was amongst lots of other children wrapped in white sheets and sleeping in depthless dreams. She was walking along the spaces between the beds. She was making her way towards one bed in particular and when she got there she would pull back the sheet to reveal… himself sleeping.

“Move yourself now, you little shit before I do something about it.”

She moved towards him with menace and then stopped as she heard a knock on the door. Her face contorted a little, she was unsure of what to do. Pete sensed that she could ignore the interruption. Her mind was reasoning that anybody outside would assume that there was nobody within. The lights were out after all. The knock came again and the voice of Katy rang out,

“Samantha, you still there? Samantha, I’ve got the wrong bag.”

The knock was more urgent and Pete slipped inside the hesitation of the big lady and pushed. He pushed her towards making a decision that would help him. She thought to herself once more and this time she decided to answer the door. Pete seized hold of Edward and waited.

The door was opened in the same way it would be opened to unwanted salesmen.

“Oh thank goodness for that. I thought you’d gone. I thought you’d gone with all the lights being out.”

“I was just putting our coats on. His mother called and asked me if I’d take him home. Her car’s broken down.”

“Can I come in then and get my bag? I must have picked up yours by mistake.”

Grudgingly the big lady opened the door just enough to let Katy in. Katy had to literally squeeze through the gap. Pete waited in silence.

“I best give Pete his coat if you’re leaving. We can all leave at the same time can’t we?”

Katy passed Pete his coat and he put it on without revealing what he held in his right hand. The smile was battling to remain together when Katy spilt the contents of the other handbag on the floor by mistake.

A six-inch switchblade fell open on the floor and transfixed everyone.

The big lady made towards it and Pete ran for the door. She turned to stop him and almost caught hold of his coat sleeve. The smile quickly became a savage grimace of intent and he wasted no time in launching Edward in the direction of her left temple. The smack was audible, even above the cry of astonishment coming from Katy.

Pete was out of the door and into the night.

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He laughed about how Edward had got his own back on the Fat Controller and was away.

 

The Piper 38

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The last of the afternoon light was starting its retreat from the school.

“And let’s think about what we have learnt today,” concluded Mr Hunter from the front of the room.

“Hitler and his Nazis did fail. His regime finally buckled under the combined weight of the Allied Forces. Like similar regimes throughout history, there was initial internal resistance, however, that was dealt with through the tacit co-operation of many of its citizens. Hitler’s attempts to change the future through the establishment of the Hitler Youth and the Final Solution never achieved its objectives. Some Jewish people did survive and subsequently emigrated. Many of the youth got bored with the evening meetings until laws were passed to ensure their attendance. And what usually happens once you are forced to do something?”

Michael, who had carried the class, did not volunteer. Flowers put his hand up in the air in a manner that was vaguely familiar to the Nazi salute.

With a sigh of resignation, the teacher acknowledged the input.

“The answer to that is simple. If you are frightened enough, you will do anything. Brutality is what humans understand the most. Any true leader who has a choice between the carrot and the stick will always choose the stick because it works. Very few people like pain and fewer still enjoy watching pain being inflicted on those they love. You, as a teacher of history, know that the German authorities would never immediately punish the individual, at least not on their own. They had a policy of punishing the families and communities as this achieved two excellent outcomes: the perpetrators were dealt with and the chance of encountering revenge attacks was dramatically reduced. On top of that, one has to say, the fear factor kicked in big style. How can you fight something that has no acceptance of good and evil? That’s what it boils down to, not woolly-headed bleeding-heart liberalism.”

There was no triumph in his voice. What came through was a granite determination and conviction. Every face in the room was turned towards the man who had formally been the teacher. For a long while, he was trapped in silence.

Michael wanted to urge him on. Michael wanted him to respond with an argument that would raze Flowers to the level he should be at. Unfortunately, the bell sounded for the end of the class and the school day. Chairs moved quickly and bags were swung onto backs. Nobody spoke as feet quickly made for the exit. Within seconds the room was empty of everyone bar the trio.

“Interesting point there, Liam,” Mr Hunter spoke in hushed tones suggesting he had accepted the logic of his student. “You displayed some excellent skills of explanation and deduction. You would make a fine student of this subject and…”

“Cut the crap, Hunter. I didn’t say that for your benefit. The problem with your type is that you think the world is built on reason. No matter how many wars and atrocities continue to take place, you believe in your flimsy values and ethics. I feel sorry for you. Your time is dead and buried and you don’t even know it. Teacher of History, how apt.”

Turning towards Michael, Flowers smiled.

“You are a little more interesting,” he said getting up. “I’m rather looking forward to having a further talk.”

He walked slowly out of the room and Michael listened to him disappearing along the corridor.

“Michael, I think it’s better that you wait here for a while.”

 

 

It had been coming.

Michael knew that something had to happen and that he could no longer be protected by anyone other than himself. Flowers had laid down the gauntlet and Michael had no choice but to pick it up.

“Thanks for the offer, but I think I’ll be getting the bus with Chris.”

“If you think that’s safe, then you go ahead. Just take care of yourself, young man. I’ve got a feeling that Mr Flowers doesn’t fight fairly.”

“Me, too.”

When Michael emerged from the classroom, the corridors were deserted. Not even the faintest echo of feet could be heard bouncing around the walls. Each classroom that he passed revealed itself to be vacant. He was struggling to believe that everyone could have left so quickly and so quietly. If fire drills went as smoothly as this then there would be no need for them.

A door behind him flapped shut and he turned to see who had come through it. The door swung to and fro free from assistance. There was nobody there. He heard a chair scratch itself across the floor and he moved on. He increased his pace a little to keep him ahead of the tiny sounds that were emerging from where he had come. A cold breeze ran past him and he broke into a jog. When he finally reached the exit and pushed, he discovered that it had been locked.

Michael stared at the door in disbelief and tried it again. He could not bring himself to believe that the caretaker had locked the main exit so early. He kicked at it in frustration and his slight rebellion made him smile.

He was turning back when he heard a storm of feet charging along the corridor above him. It sounded as if a tempest had conjured itself from the afternoon and was in the process of dashing the ground in cruel satisfaction. As suddenly as it had started, it stopped. No even a footfall fell beyond the others. Not a noise after that. Sweat formed on his skin ran in huge droplets along salty tracks down his face. Pinpricks of anxiety started tingling through his system and shook him out of any complacency he may still have harboured.

Think, think he thought to himself. Where’s the next exit?

He didn’t know the school that well and had been a creature of habit in the few months that he had been there. Now, he cursed himself for his lack of adventure. In that breath of time, it had also crossed his mind that Chris was not there.

Chris was not there waiting for his brother.

They had always been together, through everything. What Michael could not do, Chris could and that was reciprocated. Michael was on his own for the first time outside of his dreams and this was becoming more and more like one of his nightmares as even the flimsiest of the sun’s rays began to falter.

He pressed a light switch and nothing happened. A cacophony of doors slammed in a falling of dominoes and that was enough of a cue for him to launch into full flight. Laughter chased his every step.

He was doubling back upon himself knowing that that was what they would want him to do. He was thinking through his escape and he was trying to see his plight through the eyes of his tormentors. He was putting himself into the shoes of a boy he had only just met. He was using some innate intuition to allow himself an advantage.

The rush of feet came again and this time it was much closer. He listened to the noise until it fell into a distant silence. He moved forward and heard his own shoes signalling his whereabouts. Every step he was taking betrayed him – ringing through the empty school, a radar for his pursuers to follow. He was running in near darkness now and so would his pursuers. He stopped and hooked his thumb into the back of his right shoe and slid it off. He did the same with the other one and pushed them into his bag. He ran barefooted, in silence, until the rush of feet came again.

This time it went on for longer and he could hear the distance between them being eaten up. He had decisions to make. He was being chased into a trap. The feet were the drum beaters that scared the prey. The prey would hear the noise and would flee towards apparent safety. Unfortunately, the beaters were not the most imminent threat. No, the main threat would be waiting around the corner or beyond the next doorway. Somehow, he had to find a way out before he got any further.

He took a chance and tried a classroom door.

He needed to be quick and quiet. It was locked. He moved on and across to try another and this time it opened. He eased himself in and closed it just as another rush of feet gathered speed and crashed along the area he had only recently departed.

He sat crouched with his breath held and waited.

He waited for a sweeper to come along. He had read about sweepers and how they would come along after the main chase. Their job was to ensure that the prey had not deviated from its intended path. He waited and sure enough he heard the stealth of footsteps making its way towards him. He heard the sweeper trying doors and pushed himself hard against his. He dug his shoes into the floor in a vain attempt to stem any surge from beyond. His body tensed against the wood and he was aware of his heartbeat transferring itself through his bones and muscles and further into the wood.

A hand grasped the handle and slowly pushed down.

Michael’s body absorbed the momentum from the other side. It came in a slow inquisitorial fashion. Another deeper examination followed with more weight being placed behind the intruder’s question. Michael again absorbed this and, even though his body was ringing with the sharp volts of adrenaline, he controlled his urge to overexert. The door handle returned to its original position, a few seconds passed like years and the footsteps moved away to another door.

Michael listened intently to the sound of other doors being tested. He had lost track of logical time, but he was sure that the sweeper was spending less on them than the others. Eventually, the sweeper reached the large doors at the end of that stretch of corridor and the sound of them being swung open should have allowed Michael some respite.

His instincts told him to stay where he was.

Minutes gathered like water from a dripping tap. Seconds nudged their way through the slightest of gaps and collected in the vastness of space. Infinitesimal amounts were now forming themselves into a sphere that clung to their source with the reason of irrationality. His enemies would not give up so easily. Michael counted to battle with the gravitas of a mystic. When he reached four, he resumed the count, placing imaginary defensive supports against his door. He was building for survival.

One, two, three, four. One, two three, four. One, two, three, four. One, two, three…!  

A huge force hit. The frame was shaken. Again, something massive hammered against it and this time it seemed to be knocked free of its surroundings. Whatever there was on the other side, it should have broken the defence by now. Michael sat lost in his mantra and was not alone. He pulled forth the faces of his family, each helping him to stack his ramparts.

They would not, they could not pass.

The creature on the other side let out a scream that was joined by a wailing chorus of squeals rising in unison with their combined frustration. After this had died away, a voice that was calmly modulated arose.

“You are quite impressive, Mr Andrews. You have surprised us all. Still, this little display of defiance will only stretch out the end. It will be of little consolation to you now that I tell you that your loving mother has been taken by us. Little Pete, oh so innocent little Pete, is under the watchful eye of a very attentive carer. Yes, she’s one of ours. She was one of the lost children now fully grown. She’ll look after Peter.

“Oh, and I’ve got a special request from another family member. Chris says it’s no use fighting. He’s a strong lad, much stronger than you and I think he’s thrown in the towel. Well, he’s not here to help you is he?

“Finally, one last little snippet of news is that my faithful follower, the venerable Mr Podrall has been given an early Christmas present. I gave him a Luger. It was a special keepsake from the last war. He’s using it now to rid the world of that parasite who you think will save you.

“Have your day,  little man. Enjoy the final moments before the end of days.”

A breeze arose and quickly turned into a wind that swept along the corridors and the classrooms. Everything that had been there was sucked into its vacuum, even the premature darkness.

Even the air that Michael breathed was different as he emerged from his stronghold.

One, two, three, four. 

They had gone.

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